India on Sunday ordered two officials of the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi to leave the country within 24 hours after they were apprehended on charges of spying, according to several media reports.
The Ministry of External Affairs in a statement said the Indian government had declared the officials "persona non grata" for indulging in activities incompatible with their status as members of a diplomatic mission. The MEA said a strong protest was lodged with the Charge de Affairs of the Pakistan High Commission over the activities of its two officials against India's national security.
The Delhi Police's special cell detained Abeed Hussain and Tahir Khan, who work in the visa section of the Pakistan High Commission, NDTV reported. The two worked for Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and used fake identity papers to move around, sources told NDTV.
Officials of the special cell of Delhi Police, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Hindustan Times that three officials of the Pakistani mission were detained at Bikanervala Chowk in Karol Bagh at 10.45 am on Sunday while allegedly trying to obtain classified materials on the Indian security establishment.
Hussain, 42, an assistant in the Pakistani mission, Khan, 44, a clerk in the mission, and Javed Hussain, 36, a driver were under surveillance for the past few months, officials told Hindustan Times. "They were caught red-handed while obtaining documents on the Indian security establishment from an Indian national and handing over cash and an iPhone to him," an official said.
The two initially claimed they were Indians and even produced fake Aadhaar cards, officials told the newspaper. "Later, during interrogation, they confessed they were officials at the Pakistan High Commission and worked for the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)," a second official said.
They were trying to extract information regarding the Indian Army and Indian Railways, The Economic Times reported. Those familiar with the investigation told The Economic Times Tahil would 'proactively' scout for contacts in the Delhi establishment.
"He was actively pursuing officers and middle-rung employees using money and in some cases honey-trap them using social media accounts. The details regarding Indian officials to be contacted were shared by his senior in Pakistan. Personal social media accounts of government officials in India were monitored closely," a senior police official told the newspaper.
Pakistan condemned India's decision, saying the action has been accompanied by a negative, pre-planned and orchestrated media campaign. Pakistan's foreign office said that the two staff members of the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi were lifted by the Indian authorities on 31 May on "false and unsubstantiated charges".
They were, however, released on the High Commission's intervention, it said. "The Indian action has been accompanied by a negative, pre-planned and orchestrated media campaign, which is a part of persistent anti-Pakistan propaganda," Pakistan's Foreign Office said in a statement.
"We condemn the detention and torture as well as threatening and pressuring of the diplomatic officials to accept false charges," it said. It said the Indian action is in "clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations as well as the norms of diplomatic conduct especially in an already vitiated atmosphere".
The action against the two officials came in the midst of frayed ties between the two countries over reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir by India and fierce fighting along the border earlier in the year.
Pakistan had downgraded diplomatic ties by expelling the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad following India's decision to withdraw special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories in August.
With inputs from agencies